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Brooks & Dunn ride along the red dirt road

By Jeffrey B. Remz, January 2004

Page 2...

He continues singing about drinking his first beer, finding Jesus, wrecking his first car and gets philosophical about the meaning of life: "I learned the path to heaven is full of sinners and believers/Learned that happiness on earth ain't just for high achievers/I've learned I've come to know There's life at both ends/Of that red dirt road" Writing with Gary Nicholson, Brooks came up with a somewhat similarly themed song, "When We Were Kings ."

The mid-tempo song's central figure, Tommy, gets off his job from Texaco to hang with beer and girls. He ends up with "prettiest girl I'd ever seen," before getting drafted for the Vietnam War ."

"I'll teach 'em a lesson they'll never forget"/Angel and I went to wave goodbye/I guess we'd always thought we'd see him again/You know I took her out a couple of times/We always just wound up talkin' 'bout him" "That's pretty much me," says Brooks of his life growing up in Shreveport, La. "We would out to Wallace Lake Dam outside of Shreveport. There were always a bunch of pickup trucks with tailgates down and bonfires and everything else in the 70s. The partying was going on all the time ."

As for the idea of feeling important, Brooks says, "That's just that place in your life whether it was a club or somebody's house, and you could walk in the house and you (were greeted) "hey so and so, and you feel like a king. Everyone seems to have that version of where that was ."

Brooks says the idea of looking back to a younger, perhaps glorified time in one's life is the norm .

"I think all of us like to think of ourselves that way. We might not necessarily live that lifestyle any more. It's a romantic time in our life, and I think most people have a period like that. Even though you may have moved beyond it, hopefully you still have that wind in your sails. I don't think I'll ever grow up. I sure to hell hope not ."

"I saw the Stones last year for the I-don't-know how many times," says Brooks. "When you get a close up of Mick's or Keith's face, they're weathered. It doesn't strike me at all out of place with what they're doing. It seems totally okay that he's (Mick's) acting like a teenager ."

Brooks says he was surrounded by music growing up in Shreveport. "When I was real young, like six, I had a ukulele. I learned songs. I got a guitar. By the time I was 12, we had a band in the 6th grade. I was playing for garages and little parties and swim clubs ."

The latter wasn't always too safe, however, especially if playing electric. "I can remember the hell got shocked out of me, barefoot and bathing suit and sparks climbing three inches (from) your lips ."

Interestingly enough, Brooks grew up about six houses away from country star Johnny Horton, who had such hits as ""The Battle of New Orleans" and "North to Alaska." Brooks was 5 when Horton died in 1960 in a car crash. Brooks did not know Horton, but he knew his songs and remembers driving with his father past Horton's house after he died .

"There was a wreath on the door," recalls Brooks. "We stopped. He just looked. He was a big fan, and I was too. I didn't realize he was killed ."

Horton's widow, Billie Jean, previously had been married to Hank Williams. Brooks knew Billie Jean and Johnny's daughter, Nina Horton, who was about his same age .

Billie Jean Horton "invited our band over to play in their garage," Brooks says. "They would have dances and parties over there ."

Brooks says he received a good music education when he was sent away to military school in Sewanee, Tenn. Brooks later worked the club circuit in Louisiana before working in Alaska and Maine, where he sang at ski lodges. In 1979, he moved to Nashville. He didn't have much success as a singer, but he penned hits for John Conlee with "I'm Only In It for the Love" in 1983 and "Modern Day Romance" for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1985. Capitol Nashville signed Brooks and released an album in 1989. But a single, "Sacred Ground," (later a hit for McBride & The Ride) only made it to 87 on the Billboard charts .

Dunn, meanwhile, was born in Coleman, Texas. His parents were into music with the sounds of Marty Robbins and Jerry Lee Lewis wafting through the house .

Dunn went to Abilene Christian College with thoughts of getting involved in religion, but left that for country music. He moved to Tulsa, Okla. where Shelter Records, home of Leon Russell, was bassed and learned some licks there. He led a house band at a nightclub where he recorded a few singles, which charted .

Dunn's break came when he won a Marlboro country talent contest, leading to recording sessions with Scott Hendricks, who later won accord as a producer and Capitol Nashville head. Dunn also toured as part of the Marlboro Country Music Tour .

Hendricks told Arista Records head Tim DuBois about Dunn. DuBois eventually did lunch with Brooks and Dunn, suggesting they join forces .

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